Visiting disabled persons in Mae Kae

On Tuesday, we have made a trip with Don Willcox and his wife Piranan to Mae Kae where were visited seven disabled persons who might need our help.

On site, we met with Worachai Intakaew who works for Mae Kae’s Community Development Centre which is a governmental structure. According to Don, it is difficult, if not impossible, to work in remote districts without informing and/or working with the local authorities. Don has good experiences working with Worachai and told us he is one of the most trustworthy men he knew.

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When we arrived in Mae Kae, we were surprised to learn that not only Worachai coming with us, but ten of his colleagues were joining to visit the disabled persons. Don explained that this is the way it is in Thailand and that there is no way of preventing the whole community department of joining the trip.

It is good that people get involved and want to help disabled persons, but we had the impression that certain of the government workers care more about taking group pictures than the person in need. We felt a little uncomfortable, invading a person’s house with a group of 15 people.

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Don explained that this is the way things happen in Thailand. We feel that we must accept the Thai way, even if we are not used to such proceedings.

We have to say that Worachai made a very good impression and we are sure that his intentions are good. He is one of the guys who really wants to help. Don took a lot of time to talk to the people we have visited; joking and making them laugh – it was very nice to see.

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We are currently discussing with Worachai how we can help Ms Jun Pirakaew. She is one of the disabled persons we have met Her situation has concerned particularly us. She is a 60 years old lady who is unable to walk after a stroke eight years ago. She and her husband are very poor and life in a small and badly equipped house.

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Despite our partly uneasy feeling during our visit in Mae Kae (due the present crowd of government officials) we want to support Ms Jun Pirakaew, because she really is in need. You will soon hear more about Ms Jun Pirakaew on our website.

Meeting with FFAC in Chiang Mai

As intended we have visited the office of the Foundation Friends For All Children in Chiang Mai. We were warmly welcomed by Gwan and her team.

FFAC currently takes care of five girls: four with mental and/or physical disabilities and one healthy three year old girl which has been adopted by a Belgium couple and which will soon leave FFAC. Gwan and her team take wonderful care of the girls and we were surprised, how good FFAC works on the children’s disabilities in daily life.

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Anong cannot talk, but she can understand everything. In order to facilitate communication in daily life, FFAC has printed pictures of the most important words which Anong can use to communicate. If Anong, for example, wants to drink, she can show the picture of a water glass. Further, Anong has learned to eat by herself and even to do the dishes.

 

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Duanphen has a physical handicap and cannot use her legs, because they are too weak. She is, however, the probably happiest little girl we have ever seen. When we were playing with the girls, Gwan and her team have tried to make Duanphen stretch and use her legs.

 

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The right side of Boonsri’s body is weak, because of an innate brain damage. For Boonsri, too, Gwan and her team has tried to make her use her right arm instead of her left arm.

 

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Hathai is already thirteen and cannot move any part of her body. She needs a wheelchair, is fed and cleaned. When we were playing with the other girls, the team has taken Hathai with us and even though she could not participate in the games, one could see how happy she was about the company.

 

FFAC has a “deal” with one of Chiang Mai’s hospitals and the girls get free therapy twice a week. We could accompany Anong, but we could not make any pictures; only of the facilities. Two young nurses took care of Anong for one hour and tried to encourage her motor functions through playful exercises.

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If you want to learn more about the work of FFAC, you can read our article about FFAC in Bangkok, or visit FFAC’s website.

PS. FFAC is always happy about volunteers which play with the girls, feed and clean them.

 

The names of the children have been changed in this article.

Why Aids remains a major problem in Thailand – Field trip with Rejoice

This week we have made a field trip to Chiangdao and Phrao with Gee, Wi and Arm from Rejoice.

Rejoice works predominantly with HIV-positive persons and those suffering from Aids in the North of Thailand. We have visited clinics and made home visits in order to distribute free medication to those followed by Rejoice.

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Rejoice does not distribute anti-viral medication which is only available in hospitals. Rejoice offers treatment for side-effects of the anti-viral medication and accompanying sickness of Aids.

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Before the field trip we have met Alan Wheeler of Rejoice UK in Chiang Mai who has told us a lot about HIV in Thailand. As Don Willcox and Saovanee Nilavongse have already told us, Rejoice has difficulties to obtain donations directly in Thailand. According to Alan, 90% of Rejoice’s funds come from abroad. Many Thai people prefer to donate to temples rather than to humanitarian organisations.

Chiang Mai was the epicentre of Aids in Thailand 15 years ago and even though the situation has improved, the region still struggles with the repercussions. Especially the rural population is affected by the virus.

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As of today, the public Thai health system provides free medical care for persons suffering from Aids. Further, the HIV tests are paid for by the Thai health insurance which is available for all Thai persons which are registered. A good example of state measures is that HIV test are mandatory for pregnant women in order to prevent a possible transmission of the virus to the new born.

Even though Alan has qualified the governmental action as “good,” several problems persist and HIV and Aids remain a major issue in Thailand.

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All people living in Thailand are not registered and thus have no access to free health care. Especially hill tribes, which speak different languages and often do not speak Thai, do not make the necessary procedures. Further, there are many migrant workers which come from neighbouring countries and which often are in Thailand without a work permit.

According to Alan, another problem is the transportation to the hospitals and clinics. Don has told us about the same problem. The most vulnerable often live far from medical care institutions. The transportation is relatively expensive for the rural population and takes a lot of time which often means one lost day of work.

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Further, and this leads us to the third major problem, going to a hospital could attract the neighbours’ curiosity. HIV and Aids, just like handicaps, remain stigmatised in Thailand. Bad information of the transmission of HIV make that HIV-positive persons are socially rejected and isolated.

We have noticed that Gee has taken a lot of time to talk to the patients. Unfortunately, we do not yet understand Thai, but the discussions seemed very amicable. Gee explained that many persons suffering from Aids stop taking the anti-viral medication when they start to feel better. Even though the medication is free for most, many do not consider it necessary when the symptoms of the sickness disappear.

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Our field trip with Gee has shown us that HIV and Aids remain a problem in Thailand in terms of prevention, treatment and information. Alan and Gee have told us much more about HIV and Aids in Thailand and about the persons suffering from it. If you have any questions you can contact us. You can also read Rejoice’s last report.

PS : On our way to Chiangdao and Phrao we stopped at a primary school in Chiangdao to distribute fruits to the children whose parents are mostly field workers. There is no direct link to Rejoice work on HIV and Aids, but it shows the diversity of its work. Here are some pictures:

 

Wheel chairs may not be sexy, but super important – Meeting with Don Willcox

Today we have met Don Willcox of the “Foundation to Encourage the Potential of Disabled Persons.” Don has previously worked with disabled persons in Nepal and has now settles down with this Thai wife Pirana in Borgsan, close to Chiang Mai.

Don and Pirana work with disabled persons and today mainly provide wheel chairs to those who cannot afford to buy one themselves.

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Our meeting with Don was very interesting. He has confirmed what we have learned from Saovanee (we have met her in Bangkok one month ago) that disabled persons are often discredited in Thailand. Many Buddhists believe that a handicap is the “payback” for a bad previous life. Thus, disabled persons “deserve” their faith; supporting them could attract bad karma.

Don told us, for example, that he had problems in the past with his neighbours which felt perturbed by the presence of disabled persons. Main objections, according to Don, came however from the monks and temples. As Saovanee told us previously, monks mostly encourage the donation to temples in order to “improve” one’s karma rather than helping people.

Don himself is a practising Buddhist, but he prefers to stand back from certain Thai customs. He compared the Thai Buddhism to the catholic religion in Europe: Practitioners are often far away from the “real” religious ideas. Don, however, stressed that one should not generalise, there are “veritable” Buddhists here, too.

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When we asked Don on governmental action taken for disabled persons, he responded very critically. Even though the situation improves in Thailand, many disabled persons still have no access to care, education, work or even a dignified life.

Don explained that there is an increasing number of public facilities providing medical and therapeutical care to disabled people, but the people often have no access to these facilities. According to Don the main problem is transportation.

In Thailand it is usual that the grand-parents take care of a disabled child, so the parents can continue working. But the grand-parents themselves often have health issues and/or do not dispose of adapted transportation for the disabled family member(s). Don further told us, that sometimes men abandon their families if a disabled child is born, in order to found a new family with another woman.

Another main problem is the financial governmental support for disabled persons. Even if a disabled person has been trained and could work, he or she are rarely hired – mainly because of the bad image Thai people have of disabled persons. The Thai government grants 500 Baht to each disabled person per month, which is hardly enough for food – and there is accommodation and possibly necessary medication and special equipment which adds on.

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The wheel chairs Don and Piranan supply mostly come from international donors, mainly the US and Australia. Even though the donations come obviously for free and normally there is no additional tax (according to Thai law, donations are exempt from taxes), Don told us that they have a lot of expenses when bringing the wheel chairs from Bangkok Harbour to Chiang Mai. Numerous administrations apparently want to enrich themselves and without paying a bribe, the wheel chairs would never arrive in Chiang Mai.

Don has shown us a couple of wheel chair models he distributes. According to him, the Westerners often think “too complicated.” The wheel chairs are adaptable in many ways what seems practical, but what does not correspond to the needs in Thailand. The technology is too complicated for many recipients. Further, the wheel chairs are more fragile with all the “jan-ken-pon.” Don has told his concerns to the constructors, but no prolific adjustments had been made so far.

Don and Piranan not only supply wheel chairs since 1993, but also medical care, education and moral support to disabled persons in Northern Thailand.

The moral support seems to be an important point. As disabled persons are often disregarded, their self-esteem is low. Don has shown us books – mainly for children – which the foundation distributes in order to show disabled persons that they are just as important and that they have the right to a dignified life.

The meeting with Don was very moving for us. The situation of disabled persons in Thailand is precarious, especially in rural regions. Even though there has been improvement over the last years, many still have no access to necessary care and are socially isolated. Don has told us so much more, but this article is already long enough. If you have any further questions, please contact us or write an email to Don.

Arrived in Chiang Mai

We have arrived in Chiang Mai and will contact NGOs in Chiang Mai in order to see how they work in the North of Thailand in comparaison to Bangkok. We will also visit FFAC, a foundation which works with orphants and which we have already met in Bangkok.

The city of Chiang Mai is in a valley, surrounded by mountains. In the province of Chiang Mai, 82,6% of the area is covered by forest while 11,2% is used for agriculture. Agriculture is one of the most important resources in the North of Thailand, especially rice cultivation. The North of Thailand counts many different ethnic groups. Close to the border to Myanmar, a lot of refugees live in camps. Humanitarian stakes are numerous and we will talk about it more in our future articles.

Rice field at Mae Wang near Chiang Mai. Thailand.

Many NGOs have an office in the North of Thailand. As the region is very rural, it is poorer than the touristic South. In addition to meet local NGOs, we will also travel around the city in order to meet the rural population.